A short review of “Killing Ground” (2016)

I can’t say that the Australian “Killing Ground” (2016) is a bad horror-thriller.  It’s well made in some ways — most notably in its generally excellent cast.  (The standouts here are Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows; the latter provides a disturbingly naturalistic performance as one of the story’s evildoers.  He’s a talented actor and unnervingly skilled in his role here.)  And the cinematography is good, even if it suffers in inevitable comparison to the seminal Australian outback horror-thrillers, the extraordinary “Wolf Creek” films and TV series (2005-2017).

But I can’t actually recommend “Killing Ground” either, because I didn’t enjoy it much.  I’d rate it only a 4 out of 10 for its strengths.   What held me back from enjoying the movie more is its brutal portrayal of violence.

I realize that sounds ridiculous, given my viewing habits and the films I’ve favorably reviewed right here at this blog.  (Any entry in the “Wolf Creek” series, for example, contains far more violence and sadism than “Killing Ground.”)  And I’ll probably do a poor job of explaining it now.

But the violence here feels too … realistic.  (Other reviewers have noted this as well, and employed the descriptor “hyper-realistic.”)  Furthermore, its depiction is not in service to the story, but rather seems the sole and primary focus of the film itself.  One of my complaints about “Killing Ground” is that there is not much of a story at all.  We simply witness random violence perpetrated against ordinary innocents who we would probably like if we met them.  (I am trying to avoid spoilers here; hence my vague language.)

Writer-director Damien Power also delivers this brutality to the audience in a … prosaic manner, I guess, with little fanfare.  His movie came across to me like a faux snuff film, instead of a cinematic story of good and evil, or a character-driven survival parable.  (I submit that “Wolf Creek” hit it out of the park on both of those counts.)

If you think I’m being unclear here, I apologize for that.  The point I’m trying to make is maddeningly difficult to articulate.  And I’ll concede up front that my reaction to this film is especially subjective.

If it gives you any context, I’ll point out that critical reaction to “Killing Ground” was quite divided, with some reviewers sharing my discomfort, while others lauded the film.  Your mileage may vary.

 

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“Time to die.” Rest easy, Sir Rutger Hauer.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

— Rutger Hauer’s closing soliloquy in “Blade Runner” (1982), Ridley Scott’s seminal adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1968 science fiction novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.”  The actor co-wrote the speech that appears in the movie.

Hauer died Friday at age 75.  The news of his passing was reported today.

His role in “Blade Runner” will always define him in my mind.  But I also grew up seeing him in “Ladyhawke” (1985), “The Hitcher” (1986) and “Blind Fury” (1989); and later was pleased to discover him in “Batman Begins” and “Sin City” (2005).  Believe it or not, it was “The Hitcher” and not “Blade Runner” that first made me love Hauer’s performances.  I was still in early high school when I saw both films.  The former was among the first horror movies I truly loved, and I wasn’t yet mature enough to fully appreciate the latter.

Hauer was Knight in the Dutch Order of the Netherlands Lion.

What an amazing artist, whose creativity in his craft brought so much enjoyment to others.

 

 

A short and spoiler-free review of “Avengers: Endgame” (2019)

Mind. Blown.

If I could tell my 19-year-old self discovering superhero comics in college exactly how good their big screen adaptations would become, I wouldn’t believe me.

I saw “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) tonight with expectations that were very high. It was still better than I thought it would be. It was easily better than last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War” (although I think of them as two halves of the same epic movie).  I don’t pretend to be a film expert, so take this as speculation — I personally think the pair of “Infinity” films have made comic-book movie history in the same manner as the original “Superman” (1978), Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989) and Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy (2005-2012).

I don’t really want to make any more observations, because I’m too afraid of inadvertently posting spoilers.  But I will say that there is a massive tonal change between “Infinity War” and “Endgame.”  The banter and humor of the former is largely left aside, and this concluding story is darker and far more emotionally sophisticated.  It’s moving.  It feels strange to write here, but I kept thinking during the movie that this was a more “grown up” Marvel film.

And it is EPIC.  I honestly can’t imagine how Marvel can top it with future films.  There is an action set piece that made my jaw drop.  I can’t say more.

This is an obvious 10 out of 10 from me.

 

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Episode 1 of “Black Summer” (2019) looks quite promising.

The hectic first episode of “Black Summer,” Netflix’ new zombie series, looks like ambitious stuff — it plays like a hybrid of “28 Days Later” (2002), “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and “24” (2001-2014).  While it seems unlikely that this show can emulate the greatness of those classics, “Black Summer” still gets off to a damned good start.  I’d rate the first episode an 8 out of 10 for being a pretty lean and mean start to a decent zombie series.

Part of the episode’s appeal is its frantic vibe and format — something that seems like a deliberate contrast to “The Walking Dead’s” slowly placed, methodical epic.  The viewer is plopped down into the middle of a heartland neighborhood evacuation effort, three weeks into a zombie epidemic.  With a series of lengthy, real-time tracking shots, we race beside a collection of unconnected characters who are desperately trying to reach United States Army pickup point.

The zombies are few in number.  But they are the “high-speed zombies” that most modern horror viewers associate with Danny Boyle’s film, so the arrival of even one imperils the fleeing families.  The makeup effects are good, the transformation process is effectively rendered, and the show is satisfyingly scary.  The show makes this even more interesting by filming each character’s dash individually, and then showing them as discrete vignettes that are out of chronological order.  

The story is weakest when it slows down enough to allow its characters to talk.  The dialogue is truly bad, even if the quick action sequences make up for it.  (Has there ever been a more generic bribery offer, for example, then the one we see here?)  But this weakness doesn’t much affect the overall quality of an episode that follows so much action.

I was even more surprised that the episode works when I googled “Black Summer.”  The Netflix series is produced The Asylum, the film company notorious for “mockbusters” like “Dead Men Walking” (2005), “Snakes on a Train” (2006) and … sigh … “Transmorphers” (2007).  What’s more, “Black Summer” is intended as a prequel series to  The Asylum’s “Z Nation,” the lamentable horror-comedy zombie series that ran for three seasons on SyFy.  (It was so bad I couldn’t get through a single episode.)

It’s a weird world.

 

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